This time next year, citizens of Michigan will likely have the legal right to smoke marijuana. Employers here and in other states that haven’t already legalized it need to get ready.

I wrote about this on the National Driller blog in the summer of 2017, specifically talking about areas that allow medical marijuana. Almost 30 states allow that. Anecdotally, medical pot makes hiring people to run heavy equipment much harder. Even with the hoops patients have to jump through to get it, it stands to reason that states with medical marijuana have much more broad use. In a Web poll accompanying that blog post, one in five respondents said finding applicants who can pass drug screening makes hiring tougher.

Medical marijuana still has barriers, though. States usually have a list of approved conditions for which doctors can prescribe it. Patients who seek it out must go through a doctor and register with a state database. To be fair, those aren’t high barriers. But they are barriers. People may not want the awkwardness of asking a doctor to prescribe a formerly illegal medicine. Others may not want their status as a marijuana user in a state registry, even if that registry remains not public for confidentiality reasons.

Michigan, by referendum, passed medical marijuana 10 years ago. We’re a medical marijuana state. But when voters choose to remove the “medical” part, we become simply a marijuana state. What then?

I have no doubt the ballot initiative will pass here in Michigan. The medical marijuana initiative in 2008 passed with 63 percent of the vote. If anything, the popular opinion on pot has shifted in an even-more-pro direction since. So, when it passes in November, what then?

Michigan will join about 10 other states and the District of Columbia that have ended cannabis prohibition. What then?

Maybe contractors in states like California, Oregon and Colorado can weigh in. Any advice for hiring when it’s much more likely promising candidates might fail a drug screening? In the blog post I mentioned, I pencil out a few ideas for employers faced with this dilemma. Of course, I’m just a journalist. I can do research, and find good ideas and potential best practices. But employers in states like Michigan — and New Jersey, where the Democratic governor is pushing legalization — need to ready themselves by talking to their HR departments. If your company isn’t big enough to have an HR specialist, consult an employment attorney about policies.

The important thing is to get ahead of the situation. As marijuana laws loosen at the state level, employers will increasingly confront situations where a prospective hire, or even your best crewmember, tests positive. What then?

People who could potentially have drugs in their system have no place around heavy machinery. That much is clear. As employers, contractors need to make it even clearer. Do you have a one-strike policy for applicants, and retest if they fail? What happens if an employee tests positive? Is your answer the same for a random, out-of-the-blue test versus a test following a near-miss or an accident? I encourage contractors to get these policies in writing. Fast.

Federal marijuana prohibition isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But even more conservative states like Utah and Nebraska will or likely will have initiatives on the ballot this year. This issue seems headed in one definitive direction. Employers need to prepare.

What do you think? What policies do you have in place? Have you had to be a little flexible to make sure you’re getting job openings filled? Let us know. Send an email to

Stay safe out there, drillers.